Feds should prosecute, jail some BP execs (Insight)
Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012, 6:04 AM Updated: Sunday, May 20, 2012, 9:22 AM
By Antonia Juhasz
Special to the Press-Register
The criminal charges brought against former BP engineer Kurt Mix for
allegedly deleting text messages detailing how much oil was gushing from
BP’s Macondo oil well should, I believe, be just the beginning of a
host of far more serious charges brought against those in the most
senior positions of authority at BP.
this Oct. 25, 2007, file photo, the BP logo is seen at a gas station in
Washington. After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Gulf states sought
damages from BP to cover lost revenue and other problems caused by the
2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
the criminal charges that the Department of Justice should bring
include manslaughter charges against, at a minimum, BP’s top executives
Eleven men died aboard the Deepwater Horizon:
Gordon Jones, Dewey Revette, Jason Anderson, Shane Roshto, Stephen
Curtis, Blair Manuel, Karl Kleppinger, Adam Weise, Don Clark, Roy Kemp
and Aaron Dale Burkeen.
Keith Jones, father of 28-year-old
Gordon, told me on the second anniversary of his son’s death in April
that he feels BP treated his son as just one more piece of equipment
lost in the course of doing business, and one that is just as easily
He said that in the two years since his son’s death,
BP has not so much as sent a card to the Jones family, including
Gordon’s widow or young sons, to express regret or condolences for their
Perhaps BP failed to reach out to the Jones family because the company is worried about prosecution. It should be.
Dr. David Uhlmann, former head of the U.S. Department of Justice
Environmental Crimes Section, argues in the Michigan Law Review for
criminal charges against BP, including manslaughter. He cites Title 18
Section 1115 of the U.S. Criminal Code, known as the “Seaman’s
The statute holds companies, executives,
managers and employees of vessels liable for fines and imprisonment for
deaths occurring on their rigs.
Jeanne Grasso of Blank Rome LLP,
a maritime and environmental law expert, says that in applying the
statute, “it is important to note that intent is not an element of the
offense and it is unnecessary to show that the acts or omissions that
caused the loss of life were willful or intentional.” Rather, she
explains, simple negligence is enough to secure a conviction.
After two years and numerous critical investigations, the Joint
Investigation Team of the U.S. Coast Guard and Interior Department
concluded that BP, Transocean and Halliburton violated numerous federal
laws that led to the disaster.
The team cites BP, for example,
for failing “to protect health, safety, property and the environment by
(1) performing all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner; and (2)
maintaining all equipment and work areas in a safe condition.”
It cites BP, Transocean and Halliburton for “creating conditions that
posed unreasonable risk to public health, life, property, aquatic life,
wildlife, recreation, navigation, commercial fishing or other uses of
It also cites the companies for faulty well control,
cement job (BP and Halliburton), integrity testing (BP) and maintenance
of the critical blowout preventer (BP and Transocean).
Uhlmann concludes, “BP has all but acknowledged its negligence — and has
inculpated Transocean and Halliburton — in its internal investigation
of the factors that caused the Gulf oil spill.”
He goes on to
argue that “if the Justice Department were to decline criminal
prosecution under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, the government
would send the wrong message about the value of the lives of the workers
who died when the Deepwater Horizon exploded.”
have laws that not only can punish these actions and provide for
restitution, but are also designed to deter such risky and destructive
If found guilty under the Seaman’s Statute, criminal
penalties include up to 10 years imprisonment per violation (person
killed) and fines of $250,000 per violation for individuals and $500,000
fine per violation for a company.
The full force of the law
must be brought to bear on all those responsible. To do otherwise is to
simply guarantee that the costs associated with such a tragedy will be
both bearable and manageable — and, thus, acceptable.
Juhasz is an oil and energy policy analyst and author of several books,
including “Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill”
(Wiley 2011). Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.